By Elizabeth Poulin
I have lived in the UK since 2009. My home was Atlanta, Georgia, USA, but now I find myself in the middle of a small village in the south of England. Doing my everyday things, popping to the shops, going on the school run. And every day I have to say ‘Yes, I am American, yes, that is an accent you hear, yes, I actually do enjoy the weather in England.’
Lately though, I have wondered to myself, why do I need to keep explaining this as I really don’t feel 100% American anymore? My husband is here, my child is here, my life is here, my work is here. So can I still call myself an American?
To you, here in England, I may be, but the funny thing is that when I visit the States, I get side eyed. Suspicion! Where is she from? She sounds a bit like she’s from here. She says ‘y’all’, but she also says mobile. Oh God do they think I’m Amanda from that episode of Friends? (The one with Ross’s tan). Am I starting to sound like Moira Rose?
It’s natural to culturally assimilate, isn’t it? I can’t say sidewalk or elevator anymore. It’s pavement and lift. But then when I fly back home, I’ve got to remember to say cell phone and drugstore not mobile and chemist. Where do I fit in anymore? Do I need to?
Growing up as an American I still have my strong sense of national allegiance. American pride. When I land from that plane, I feel so glad to be home, so glad to hear my fellow Americans chit chatting in the airport but when I open my mouth, I’m freely offered advice and directions of where to go. I’m bloody from here! I don’t need to know how to get on the motorway, or should I say interstate?
If I sit here and analyze my feelings about it, it’s quite a lonely place to be. Because I can’t 100% identify with either side and, for whatever reason, I feel that I need to. I think I feel most comfortable with Americans that live in England. We are having similar experiences. And I am very lucky to have met one here in my small village. I feel like I can relate to her and she can relate to me. We can have Thanksgiving together with our families without having to rehash why we do it. She understands my cultural references.
But I have met and made some really important English friends too. At first, I found British women to be closed doors, but once opened up they’ll be the first on your front porch, holding the shovel to bury the body!
Here are my top tips for any Americans looking to hop across the pond to become a blended Brit like me!
- The Brits are big drinkers. If they suggest a ‘quick drink after work’ prepare yourself for a night of excessive alcohol and you have to take it ‘in rounds’ where you buy everyone a drink and then you get one bought back. Which means you must keep up and they will drink fast!
- A day at the beach can be disappointing. Brits consider a beach full of pebbles a place to spend a day. They erect windbreakers in freezing temperatures to try and harness the sun. The sea is cold, really cold, and looks filthy, but apparently is clean.
- Refrigerators are small, kitchens are small, food portions are small. Faucets are called taps and they come in separate, hot and cold, it’s annoying. Plus, they keep their washing machines in their kitchen’s, yes you read that right, in the kitchen next to where they cook!
- The Brits love their tea, and everyone has a particular way of how it should be made, or how it should look. Milk first, milk last, ‘builders tea’ which is really strong, lemon in Earl Grey. It’s stressful to get it right. Just offer coffee.
- Pants are what they call underwear. Trousers are what they call pants. Fanny does not mean someone’s bottom. Fanny means their lady parts.
- Brits love to talk about the weather. Mostly to complain that it’s too hot or too cold or that the garden needs rain. The weather constantly changes and cannot be relied upon.
- In London talking to strangers is discouraged, as is eye contact, particularly on the tube. People walk with purpose and are always in a hurry but will happily stop and give you directions if needed.
- There are some weird names for things. Just go with it. For example, potato chips are crisps, garbage is rubbish and Sprinkles are called ‘hundreds and thousands’, yes really!
- There are lots of Bank Holiday Monday’s, but no-one knows why, and the Queen has two birthdays, again but no-one knows why, but their Queen is beloved so don’t question it.
- British people apologise a lot. They say sorry when it’s not their fault, they say sorry when they can’t hear you and they say ‘beg your pardon’ when they need to get past you.